Robin Diangelo’s book, White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018), became a bestseller and in short order put her on the high-rent corporate training circuit.
The book first hit the market to tepid response, then racial matters exploded in the U.S. following George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers, May 25, 2020. Soon thereafter, Diangelo and her catchy phrase “white fragility” were all the rage.
Diagnelo is smart, no question, and she writes from extensive experience talking to seminars about race and racism, so she offers many illustrations and she’s learned how to respond based upon her ideological filter to virtually every reaction or comment about race and racism.
Diangelo says identity politics is how the nation works and that “implicit bias is always at play because all humans have bias.” The book, she says in the introduction, “is unapologetically rooted in identity politics.” She leaves no room for growth or change, just you-are-who-you-are. Everything for Diangelo boils down to a person’s race.
She claims whites are ongoing victims of white fragility because they are schooled into racism from birth, they are defensive (silent), uninformed and ignorant (argumentation, certitude, other forms of pushback – her words, not mine, e.g., “If you are white, your opinions on racism are most likely ignorant.”
We are in the United States, according to Diangelo, trapped in social forces that prevent us from attaining racial knowledge—our individualism, meritocracy, depictions of whiteness as the ideal, jokes, truncated history, white solidarity, and more – even "objectivity," which she says argues it is possible to be free of bias, something she rejects. Again, you-are-who-you-are and there’s no out.
Diangelo argues the US economy was based on abduction and enslavement of Africans, displacement and genocide of indigenous people, and annexation of Mexico. Americans are ipso facto “colonizers.”
She rejects the idea of a melting pot, saying only European immigrants were allowed to melt. She offers no evidence for this assertion.
Racism as a system for Diangelo is somehow rooted in individualism, capitalism, democracy, consumerism, and meritocracy. –Read this again. Diangelo is saying American ideals that have produced the freest and most prosperous country in the history of the world, one with racial sins and struggles for sure but one that fought a Civil War to end slavery and eventually established civil rights for all individuals, is somehow at its core, racist. For Diangelo, American ideals are the precursors of systemic racism.
Since people of color do not hold power—Diangelo’s broad brush—they basically cannot be racist, only whites are racist.
Whites, she says, may be against racism but still benefit from it; this is “White privilege.” In turn, “Whiteness,” a spin-off of white privilege, is rooted in self-worth, positive expectations, psychological freedom, freedom of movement, belonging, sense of entitlement. White privilege leads to whiteness which leads to “White supremacy” and finally “White solidarity.”
Diangelo specifically rejects Martin Luther King, Jr’s “colorblind” approach to civil rights and says any white that uses this is hiding racism. No one in her view can be colorblind in a “racist society.”
Any idealization of the past is nostalgia for white privilege. White privilege is a form of bullying, even if unintentional or unaware.
In the name of “anti-racism” backed by pithy phrases, Diangelo has and is making a lot of money in corporate training, but she is ironically propagating a new form of racism. For her, everything is about conflict, oppressor and victim, and race along with gender are key victim groups.
Diangelo says all knowledge is socially constructed. Nothing is objective, so she conveniently omits any reference to or potential for God and religion and absolute truths. She does not believe any white can really ever change, so there is not room for grace or forgiveness or change. She does not allow for Whites or Blacks or others to experience spiritual transformation. In the end, she doesn’t offer much hope for constructive change, not even for her own life. Ultimately, she just strives to act with “less white identity.”
Diangelo’s analysis and prescriptions yield to reductionism, all things are determined by race, her views are rooted in Marxist critical theory, thus her assumptions and worldview clash with a Christian worldview. She provides no space for considering human beings made in the image of God, capable of and indeed inevitably given to sin (there is nothing in the book about sin or evil), but able to respond in faith to experience redemption and restoration. None of this is found in White Fragility.
Diangelo dehumanizes whites and blacks, considering people simple products of their environment and racial biology. Strangely, and inconsistently, she argues favorably for LGBTQ+, suggesting biology does not reign supreme over social constructs, yet when it comes to race, she is a determinist, either/or, no alteration possible.
In the end, while Diangelo’s book points to some genuine race problems in American society, ones about which Americans should hold honest and open conversations, her prescription for well-being offers no real transformative power, just try to do and be better.
So, her book will likely do more harm than good, especially for those who a) want to disrupt American society for their own partisan political ends, b) those who use it as a springboard for seeing racism in everything that happens, c) those who reject American ideals, for ideological reasons, in favor of promoting radicalism, and d) those who want to virtue signal their new woke bona fides.
I do not endorse or recommend this book.
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2021
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